The Human Cost of Judicial Fencing in Alabama

On Monday, the Alabama Supreme Court suffered yet another defeat at the hands of the U.S. Constitution. In a short, unsigned opinion—issued without full briefing or oral argument—the U.S. Supreme Court rebuked the Alabama court for refusing to recognize Georgia’s grant of parental rights to a woman (identified as V.L.) who had been in a longterm relationship with another woman when she was named an adoptive parent of the couple’s children. The U.S. Supreme Court held that in rescinding Georgia’s grant of parental rights to V.L., the Alabama Supreme Court violated the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause—which requires states to recognize each other’s legal judgments. This was a major rebuke to the Alabama Supreme Court, which contorted well-settled law to strip V.L. of her parental rights.

Although the Alabama Supreme Court got its comeuppance, it’s easy to overlook the human costs of the Alabama court’s ongoing attempts to thwart the marital and parental rights of same-sex couples. As V.L. explained after learning of Monday’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, “I have been my children’s mother in every way for their whole lives … I thought that adopting them meant that we would be able to be together always. When the Alabama court said my adoption was invalid and I wasn’t their mother, I didn’t think I could go on.” Even with the U.S. Supreme Court’s relatively swift response, V.L. was left in limbo for several months.

And her fight may not be over. The case now goes back to the Alabama courts, which must determine whether V.L. should receive the right to visit her children, and will probably return to the Alabama Supreme Court. One hopes that the Alabama Supreme Court stops looking for excuses to block the familial rights of same-sex couples. But it's not a court known for its eagerness to follow the letter and spirit of federal court decisions. For V.L., uncertainty remains.

Greg Lipper (@theglipper) is Senior Litigation Counsel at Americans United.